But the most intensive DNA manipulation you can imagine will not permit your zucchini to enliven your boring dinner party with scintillating conversation—what the zucchini thinks of the veal is always interesting, I think, as are his stories about what a trollop the veal’s mother was—nor will it permit your ears of corn to dance the more difficult parts of Le sacre du printemps backwards while discussing Proust’s use of the double narrator, much as you may want to. You may be able grow the rutabaga that crushed Pittsburgh, especially if you can find enough fertilizer, but other than that, genetically modified plants don’t do much of anything except be vegetables, which is something most vegetables, all teenagers, and the vast majority of civil servants can do without any genetic modification whatsoever.
Of course, genetic modification has been going on for quite a while. For all it may gall the Gallic sensitivities of French wine connoisseurs, their ancestors the Gauls didn’t drink the wine the French drink today; in the 19th century, after blight devastated most of the French vineyards, the French imported blight-resistant vines from California and grafted them onto the remaining good vines. So whether the French want to admit it or not, they’ve been drinking California wine for more than a century, a fact that goes a long way towards explaining why no one knows where Antoine de Saint-Exupery is these days (no, I have absolutely no clue what that means). Throughout history, people have done strange things to plants and animals in order to give them the traits that people find desirable. Chihuahuas, for example, sit in their teacups all day long and remember when they were wolves and know how the mighty are fallen, all because people chose to make them fit into teacups. If you have a Chihuahua, this goes a long way towards explaining their resentful attitude towards people (look, if you started off as a wolf, the mighty hunter of the forest, and wound up in a damn teacup pissing on yourself, you’d be pretty damn annoyed too).
The orange, to take another example, began life in Los Angeles, California, the only child of hardworking emigrants from Iowa (in those days, all native Californians came from Iowa) who had lost everything at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and went to California without looking under the couch for their lost stuff (always a big mistake). The orange was a bright young lad; he did well in school and played well with others, and eventually went on to University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in international relations and Freudian metempsychosis. After the war—do you really care which one? I didn’t think so—the orange fell under the influence and woke up as a potted plant, the result of a CIA thought control/genetic modification experiment, and from that day to this he has been a pillar of California’s economy, although he would rather play center field for the Dodgers. Well, we can’t have everything, I guess. Florida oranges are an entirely different species, or so people tell me, and have nothing to do with genetic modification, thought control, or the CIA, but that’s what they want you to think, isn’t it?